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Evaluating Sources for STEM students

This guide is designed to help STEM students asses and navigate information sources.

Tips on Evaluating Journals

When evaluating a journal look for the following:

  • Published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society or association
  • Published by a reputable publisher you're familiar with and that meets the Committee on Publication Ethics
  • An editorial board and reviewers you recognize and are experts in the field
  • If the journal is indexed appropriately for your field

Many legitimate journals will not meet all of these requirements. However, these are factors you want to look for when evaluating a journal for quality.

Get further advice at thickchecksubmit.org Think. Check. Submit.

Criteria for Evaluating Journals

When reviewing an open access publisher or journal for quality and  -- the following should be considered:

1. Peer review process: All of a journal’s content, apart from any editorial material that is clearly marked as such, shall be subjected to peer review. Peer review is defined as obtaining advice on individual manuscripts from reviewers expert in the field who are not part of the journal’s editorial staff. This process, as well as any policies related to the journal’s peer review procedures, shall be clearly described on the journal’s Web site.

2. Governing Body: Journals shall have editorial boards or other governing bodies whose members are recognized experts in the subject areas included within the journal’s scope. The full names and affiliations of the journal’s editors shall be provided on the journal’s Web site.

3. Editorial team/contact information: Journals shall provide the full names and affiliations of the journal’s editors on the journal’s Web site as well as contact information for the editorial office.

4. Copyright: Copyright and licensing information shall be clearly described on the journal’s Web site, and licensing terms shall be indicated on all published articles, both HTML and PDFs.

5. Identification of and dealing with allegations of research misconduct: Publishers and editors shall take reasonable steps to identify and prevent the publication of papers where research misconduct has occurred, including plagiarism, citation manipulation, and data falsification/fabrication, among others.

6. Ownership and management: Information about the ownership and/or management of a journal shall be clearly indicated on the journal’s Web site. Publishers shall not use organizational names that would mislead potential authors and editors about the nature of the journal’s owner.

7. Name of journal: The Journal name shall be unique and not be one that is easily confused with another journal or that might mislead potential authors and readers about the Journal’s origin or association with other journals.

8. Revenue sources: Business models or revenue sources (eg, author fees, subscriptions, advertising, reprints, institutional support, and organizational support) shall be clearly stated or otherwise evident on the journal’s Web site.

9. Advertising: Journals shall state their advertising policy if relevant, including what types of ads will be considered, who makes decisions regarding accepting ads and whether they are linked to content or reader behavior (online only) or are displayed at random.

10. Archiving: A journal’s plan for electronic backup and preservation of access to the journal content (for example, access to main articles via CLOCKSS or PubMedCentral) in the event a journal is no longer published shall be clearly indicated.

11. Direct marketing: Any direct marketing activities, including solicitation of manuscripts that are conducted on behalf of the journal, shall be appropriate, well targeted, and unobtrusive.

From Principles of Transparency and Best Practices in Scholarly Publishing.

Open Access Journals

Open access (OA) refers to freely available, digital, online information. Open access scholarly literature is free of charge and often carries less restrictive copyright and licensing barriers than traditionally published works, for both the users and the authors. 

While OA is a newer form of scholarly publishing, many OA journals comply with well-established peer-review processes and maintain high publishing standards.

There are different type of Open Access Journals.

  • Green – generally refers to where the author self-archives a version (peer-reviewed postprint or pre-print) of the article for free public use in their institutional repository (IR) or in a central repository (e.g., PubMed Central).
  • Gold – Journals where the content is available to readers free-of-charge from the moment of publication, without embargo or restriction.
  • Hybrid – some times called Paid Open Access, refers to subscription journals with open access to individual articles usually when a fee is paid to the publisher or journal by the author, the author's organization, or the research funder. Some of the fees are quite expensive, up to $5000.

Predatory Publishing

Coined by Jeffrey Beall, a former librarian at the Auraria Library, University of Denver, the term "predatory publishing" refers to a questionable business practice of charging fees to authors to publish their articles without standard editorial and publishing services provided by legitimate scholarly journals. They will publish subpar research that has not properly been peer-reviewed. These journals charge unreasonable large author fees, also known as article processing charges (APCs), that far exceed the cost of running their low-quality non-peer reviewed operations. Charging a fee is not itself a marker of a predatory publisher: many reputable OA journals use APCs to cover costs, especially in fields where research is often funded by grants.